With Creed, the 7th installment in the Rocky series out this week I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the most successful boxing movies of all time.
Boxing in movies is hard, very very hard because you want the fight to look as realistic as possible, which means contact, but then if you have contact someone is probably going to get hurt, and that’s a big no-no on movie sets (despite the fact it happens all the time). Other times you nail the boxing but miss just about everything else. Then there’s the rare gem that does it all right, such was 1976’s Rocky with a star-turning performance by Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the movie.
Let’s be real here, you know when it comes to boxing movies there’s Rocky and then there’s everything else so of course half this top 10 is made up of those films. So without further ado here are the all-time top 10 highest grossing boxing movies in the US, adjusted for ticket price inflation.
10. Rocky Balboa (2006) – $87.5 million ($70.3 million unadjusted)
Coincidentally this top 10 begins and ends with a Rocky film. While a bit far-fetched, for the most part I thought Rocky Balboa was a great last hurrah for the ageing boxer and series. Now imagine my surprise and at the same time disappointment when I heard they were making another one. Fortunately from everything I heard Creed keeps the flag up and it might just be the best Rocky since the 1976 original.
9. Real Steel (2011) – $91 million ($85.5 million)
There’s just something inherently awesome about robots boxing, at least in my opinion. So for me Real Steel was like the movie my 12-year-old self would have made if he had the technical expertise and resources to do it. I know it’s not a great film but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, which is why Real Steel is among my favorites of that year. At one point there was talk of a sequel but after four years of silence I don’t think that’s happening anymore, despite Real Steel turning in almost $300 million worldwide.
8. The Fighter (2010) – $97.5 million ($93.6 million)
Before he started casting Jennifer Lawrence in all his movies, David O. Russell made a boxing film called The Fighter. Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2011 (including Best Picture and Director), the drama left home with 2 for supporting actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. It was a great movie, one of 2010’s finest.
7. The Champ (1979) – $101.1 million ($30.4 million)
I’m fairly certain I’ve watched The Champ at least once when I was really young, but sadly I don’t remember much except a bloody Jon Voight boxing. Based on the years that followed (because finding reliable data for 1979 outside the top 10 is beyond me) I think The Champ was among 1979’s top 20 films domestically.
6. Million Dollar Baby (2004) – $130.8 million ($100.5 million)
Here’s a thing, a lot of boxing movies get nominated for Oscars, including Best Picture, but not a lot of them actually go home with that award. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby is among the few that have, winning 4 (two for Eastwood, one for Hilary Swank and one for Morgan Freeman) out of its 7 nominations.
5. The Main Event (1979) – $142.2 million ($42.8 million)
A bit of trivia here, 1979 is the year with the most entries in this top 10, The Champ, The Main Event and Rocky II (which you’ll see below). What, you didn’t actually think Hollywood became reactionary only in the last couple of years, right? The success of Rocky in 1976 spawned a slew of knock-offs and other similar movies. What The Main Event had going over others were Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, oh and it was a romantic comedy with the tagline “A glove story”. What can I say, it was still the 70’s.
4. Rocky II (1979) – $283 million ($85.2 million)
From this point on it’s all Rocky, some good, some great, generally all classics. No, Rocky V didn’t make the top 10 (was 12th) so we can continue to pretend that never happened. Also notice the numbers start going way higher with Rocky II, which was the 3rd highest grossing movie of 1979. Rocky Balboa got his rematch and it was a worthy sequel to the original. Sylvester Stallone took over directing duties starting with this one and only let go of the reins for Creed. Speaking of Creed, that’s the only one he hasn’t written.
3. Rocky IV (1985) – $295.1 million ($127.9 million)
In this one Rocky goes up against probably his hardest foe yet, Ivan Drago played by a young and very imposing Dolph Lundgren. Because of a thing that happens to Apollo Creed in Rocky IV, in my opinion this is required viewing before going into Creed.
2. Rocky III (1982) – $354.6 million ($125 million)
Rocky III is also required viewing before Creed since this is where Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa really become friends. In case you’re wondering this is the one in which he goes up against Mr. T. All in al it’s another great installment in a classic franchise.
1. Rocky (1976) – $459 million ($117.2 million)
Of course the one that started it all would be on top. I mean really, how many movies can claim to have a statue that’s probably the most visited tourist attraction in a city full of historical monuments like Philadelphia? Well Rocky can, and it also took home 3 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director (John G. Avildsen) in 1977. While the boxing might not hold up as well compared to something more recent like Southpaw or Creed, Rocky is still a Hollywood classic in the truest sense.
Other great boxing movies that didn’t make the top 10 but are worth mentioning here are Raging Bull (1980), The Hurricane (1999), Cinderella Man (2005) or Ali (2000). Creed will probably enter the top 10 either by the end of the year or early next, sadly pushing Rocky Balboa out.
What is your favorite boxing movie?